One of the biggest upgrades the Detroit Tigers made to their roster this offseason wasn’t made via trade or free agent signing – it was the re-activation of designated hitter Victor Martinez, who missed all of the 2012 season after tearing his left ACL last January. Martinez hit .330/.380/.470 with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs for the Tigers in 2011, the first season of a four-year, $48 million contract. His success was largely due to the fact that he led all of baseball in hitting with runners in scoring position with a .394 average in these situations.
Early reports coming from the Tigers coaching staff have suggested that Martinez’s knee is fully healthy. He has been taking batting practice from both sides of the plate and running the bases without pain. He even hit a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Tigers’ third Spring Training game. There are even reports of Martinez wearing his catcher’s gear and making throws down to second base, though it is unlikely that he will see any time behind the plate this year. Regardless, all signs point towards Martinez being in the Tigers lineup on Opening Day, likely in the same 5th spot that he occupied two years ago.
It is unreasonable for fans and fantasy owners alike to expect the same Martinez in 2013 that we last saw in 2011. His .384 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with runners in scoring position and .330 batting average – both of which were career highs – are signs that Martinez will regress statistically. However, Martinez doesn’t need to be the RBI machine that he was in 2011 for the Tigers to be successful. Prince Fielder, who was signed by the Tigers in response to Martinez’s injury, will likely drive in another 100+ runs in front of Martinez. Jhonny Peralta, the likely candidate to hit behind Martinez, has shown up to Spring Training 20 pounds lighter than last season and will be looking to perform well this year with free agency looming in the offseason. Torii Hunter and Omar Infante are also major upgrades when compared to the Tigers’ 2012 Opening Day lineup.
And lest we forget, Martinez isn’t exactly replacing a superstar in the DH slot. Delmon Young hit just .260/.287/.388 in 118 games last season as the Tigers’ designated hitter, making him worth -0.7 wins above replacement (WAR) offensively. By comparison, Martinez was worth 3.1 offensive WAR in 2011. Even with some regression, Martinez could be worth 2-3 more wins than Young. Considering that the Tigers won the AL Central by three games last season, this is a significant upgrade to a lineup that faltered when it mattered most in 2012.